Old Dog, Old Trick?

by martha on January 15, 2011

I know I can do it. It just takes a little practice.

If you and I are Facebook friends, you’ve already seen my slightly dramatic response to this Slate story about Two Spaces After a Period: Why you should never, ever do it. It raced through the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and Facebook like a viral smack on the wrist to anyone over the age of 30.

It wasn’t that long ago that I took a typing class. (Is 1983 a long time ago? Please say it isn’t.) Plus, I grew up to be a professional Journalist. (Impressed? Don’t be. There’s more!)

It wasn’t enough that I asked for and received a typewriter for Christmas when I was 10 years old. (Way to keep me as dorky as possible, Mom and Dad!) No. That baby blue composition tool was just the auspicious beginning. In my youth, I was staff writer for school newspapers, was the darling of my English teachers, and wrote my own nerdy newsletters back when I had to photocopy them with a handful of nickels. I went to J-school, for crying out loud!

I knew right and wrong when it came to Writing. (With a capital W here, because I’m talking about the art/science/obsession, not just using the verb or noun.) I aspired to be a writer, Strunk & White was one of my bibles, and as an adult I laughed out loud at the punctuation stories in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. In public.* (Inside word nerd joke: Panda says, “No!”)

It’s possible that I liked writing and its rules because it was the perfect combination of creative artistic expression and black-and-white guidance. (See those hyphens? Those are correct.) I appreciate some structure. And, I admire and enjoy strategic flouting of the rules. There’s room for both in my perfect imaginary world.

But, without rules what do we have?” asks the crazy hyphenator. This nickname for me was coined in 1995 bythe first brave-enough-to-mock-me-to-my-face supervisors.

I’ll tell you what we have without rules.  Anarchy and uncertainty, that’s what we have. Both of those things along witha lack of clarity.

And, that’s why I have to confess that I already “knew” that one space after a period was correct. I learned it on the job, shortly after the label the hyphenator stuck to me. I used to have to use the “Find and Replace” feature to ferret out any <space><space> in the stories freelancers submitted to the magazine that employed me. It was just one of many menial tasks I had, but it was the one that bothered me the most.

The reason it bothered me, I’m sure, was that I was doing the same thing. Clicking the space bar twice after a period is a habit that is hard to break. It was so hard to let it go that I tried to forget the “new” rule as soon as I left the magazine.

For years I’ve been submitting my own work rife with two spaces after the period. I’m sure some lowly intern (0r, more likely given the state of publishing, the frustrated editor) has to “Find and Replace” extra spaces in my articles.

So, before I click “Publish” on this post, I will go through and remove the extra spaces. Now that the cat’s out of the bag about what is correct, I’ll feel compelled to make sure I only use one space after the period, too.

My arguments about how my Blackberry rewards my <space><space> with a period will never again be shared. I will “Find and Replace” on my own stories. And, I’ll hope that other old typewriter-driven rules (Like underlining! Please don’t get me started on underlining!) will eventually be settled by modern language experts so there can be a correct answer.

And, for those of us who secretly don’t want to let it go and want to cling to the double-space approach, I offer this small comfort from the entry specific to this issue in the Modern Language Handbook:

As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.

Please note some important nerdiness traits: More than once I laughed out loud at punctuation tales on the treadmill at the gym. More than once some cute guy asked “What’s so funny?” More than once I answered “Oh…just a funny joke about semi-colons.”  Have I mentioned lately that I’m still single?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy January 15, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I love this post! Too funny! The 2 spaces after the period, exclamation point, question mark, etc. has been harder for me to kick than smoking. Please don’t go check my blog posts. My son fusses at me all the time for this horrible error and sometimes I do it just for spite. I’m going back now and taking all the extra spaces out of this comment. It just looks so wrong to me – like one big long sentence.

Sandi January 16, 2011 at 9:25 am

I love it – I too look at stories, signs and email and find irritating errors. I took a small peek at the Eats, Shoots & Leaves book online and I think I will have to buy it!

Kay Green, Child Safety Mama January 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Great story. Made me chuckle. And I did not know about the find feature to fix the double space thing. Awesome

martha January 16, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Sandi, you’re going to love it! It’s a great book for people like us. 🙂

martha January 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Yes. I have to remember to do it or I don’t do it. Or something like that!

martha January 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I feel your pain.

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